Libyan rebels fight for control of border road

Libyan rebels fought for control of a major supply road to the capital, seizing a border crossing with Tunisia and strengthening their hold on the oil-rich country as they hunt for Muammar Gaddafi.

Tripoli: Libyan rebels fought on Saturday for control of a major supply road to the capital, seizing a border crossing with Tunisia and strengthening their hold on the oil-rich country as they hunt for Muammar Gaddafi.

Controlling the road from the Tunisian border to Tripoli would help ease growing shortages of fuel and food, particularly in the battle-scarred capital. Mahmoud Shammam, information minister in the rebels` transitional council, said the rebels already control most of the road, but that regime fighters are shelling it in the area of the city of Zwara, midway between Tripoli and the Tunisian border. Rebels had captured the border crossing known as Ras Ajdir, the gateway to the road to Tripoli.

"We hope to be able to control the road today," he told reporters.

In Gaddafi`s hometown of Sirte, one of the regime`s remaining bastions, rebels are trying to negotiate a surrender with the loyalists who still control the town, Shammam said. "We don`t want more bloodshed, and we had a very good response," he said, adding that he hoped the standoff would be resolved very soon.

However, Fadl-Allah Haron, a rebel commander from the eastern city of Benghazi, said the talks had failed and opposition forces were positioned to the east of Sirte in Bin Jawwad waiting for NATO to carry out more airstrikes to destroy Scud missile launching sites and suspected arms depots.

"The anti-Gaddafi tribes have told us that it is no use. Tribes loyal to Gadhafi and Gadhafi forces have refused to surrender," he said. "What we fear that most is chemical weapons and the long-range missiles."

Shammam insisted the for Gaddafi was continuing, but would not delay efforts to set up a new administration.

"Gaddafi for us is finished," he said. "He has escaped, he is running from place to place. Of course, we want to get Gaddafi. We are following him. We are going to find him, but we are not going to wait for everything to find Gaddafi and his son."

The Egyptian news agency MENA, quoting unidentified rebel fighters, reported from Tripoli that six armored Mercedes sedans had crossed the border at the southwestern Libyan town of Ghadamis into Algeria.

The report said the cars could be carrying top figures from the Gaddafi regime, possibly even his sons. Rebels in the area were unable to pursue the cars because they don`t have ammunition or the necessary equipment, MENA said. Algeria`s Foreign Ministry denied the report.

In Tripoli, the son of Libya`s once-powerful intelligence chief came into the city`s Al-Afia hospital to ask for treatment for 20 of his loyalist fighters, said a physician there, Fawzi Addala.

Addala said he vaguely recognized the commander, but had to ask why he looked so familiar.
"He told me: `I am a dead man — I`m Abdullah Senoussi`s son,`" Addala told the a news agency.

Mohammed Senoussi`s brigade had been shelling Tripoli`s airport earlier this week, but had to flee the rebel advance. The doctor said the younger Senoussi and his fighters were clearly exhausted, and some asked for medication to keep them awake.

"He told me: `I am defending my father, not the regime, because I know what the regime is all about`" the doctor said.

"Mohammed was very polite, asked for a cigarette and water and looked defeated," said Addala.

Senoussi`s father is Abdullah al-Senoussi, a top aide to Gaddafi and intelligence chief.

Rebels claimed victory over the suburb of Qasr bin Ghashir, near Tripoli`s airport, Saturday after an overnight battle. Residents celebrated by firing guns and anti-aircraft weapons into the air and beating portraits of the toppled leader with their shoes. Regime troops had been shelling the airport from the area.

"You can say that bin Ghashir has been liberated from Gaddafi soldiers," said Omar al-Ghuzayl, a 45-year-old rebel field commander now in charge of forces at Tripoli`s airport. "We`ve been able to push them completely outside Tripoli."

The celebration reflected the rebels` optimism after days of fierce fighting in the capital, which Shammam said is largely under rebel control, except for small pockets of resistance.

While fighting has died down in the city, life remains very difficult. Much of the capital is without electricity and water. Streets are strewn with torched cars and stinking garbage. Corpses crowd abandoned hospitals. Stores are closed. Bombed planes sit on the Tripoli`s airport`s tarmac.

Looking toward reconciliation efforts, Shammam also reiterated Saturday that those who worked in the Gadhafi regime but were not involved in killing or oppressing regime critics would be able to work in the new administration.

In the western city of Zawiya, 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Tripoli, a manager for the key oil refinery there said officials hoped to have it operational soon.

Restarting the rebel-held refinery, which was shut down after Libya`s rebellion flared, should help ease skyrocketing fuel prices.

Mohammed Aziz, a longtime operations manager, said it should be working by Monday.

In Tripoli, the cost of a 20-liter (about five-gallon) can of gas has jumped to about 120 dinars ($100) — 28 times the price before fighting broke.

Bureau Report

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